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TTC taking pride of ownership

Plans station managers and service increase

By Peter Kuitenbrouwer

The top brass at the Toronto Transit Commission yesterday convoked print reporters to its inner sanctum on the seventh floor of headquarters, above the Davisville subway station, to confess what riders already know: Its trains and buses are overcrowded and its subway stations are dirty and confusing.

Now, however, the TTC says it has found a better way. For starters, the commission this year will move 42 managers out of their offices and into the subway stations, to ensure the stations are cleaner, friendlier and easier to navigate.

These “Station Managers,” will take ownership of the 69 subway stations in the network, says Gary Webster, the TTC chief general manager. Six key stations: Kennedy, Sheppard-Yonge, Spadina, St. George, Union and Yonge-Bloor, will get their own station managers. Other managers will cover four or five stations. For example, one manager will handle Jane, Runnymede, High Park, Keele and Dundas West stations on the Bloor line.

Mr. Webster said that, rather than hire new staff, the TTC will move collector supervisors and janitor forepersons into the new roles, he said.

“You’ll have someone who looks after cleanliness, customer service and signage,” Mr. Webster promised. “You are going to know that station intimately and you are going to be able to recommend changes. You’re empowering that.”

One station manager will work the morning shift, 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and another the evening shift, from 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.; on Sundays shifts will start at 8:30 a.m.

“You get ownership of your station when you get a station manager,” he said.

The manager will not have an office but instead will travel between the stations he or she manages. He compared the move to the recent redeployment of 50 supervisory staff onto the street. I have met some of these guys, who check transfers on the College streetcar during rush hour, for example, so you can enter by the rear door. It is a welcome improvement.

As for the overcrowding, Mr. Webster confessed yesterday that the enduring popularity of transit in Toronto has shocked the bean-counters at head office. The TTC had calculated that a January fare increase, to $3, would eliminate about eight million riders this year. To accommodate the loss in ridership, the TTC cut out 32 drivers in March, and planned to cut another 32 drivers in September.

But a funny thing is happening: TTC ridership has remained steady this year, and we may actually beat last year’s record of 471 million transit trips.

“We didn’t expect to have this increase in ridership,” Mr. Webster said.

Even Toronto’s rising unemployment rate took no toll on TTC ridership, while ridership in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia have all dropped.

The surprise means the TTC (which gets a much greater share of its revenue from the fare box than those cities) expects to take in $958-million from its passengers this year, $17-million more than budgeted. Add to that a TTC victory in a tax dispute, and the TTC now budgets a $20-million surplus for 2010.

Now we know why the streetcar or subway feels more squished: It is. “We are getting short-term revenue because of overcrowding,” Mr. Webster admitted.

So at its meeting next week, the TTC will look at rehiring the 32 drivers it cut in March, and also cancelling a further cut of 32 drivers that had been planned for September.

This is good news. If it cleans the stations and adds back service, the TTC can even go back to predicting ridership increases. The sky is the limit.